As the 2015 All Star reserves were announced last night we make our picks in order to complete the highly selective rosters that will represent both conferences the 15th of February in New York City.
Jimmy Butler. Leading early candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year award. Butler has had a terrific season so far, being the Bulls´ go-to guy early in the season, as Rose has been struggling after dealing with injuries the last two seasons and Pau Gasol still adapting to Thibodeau's system. The fourth year shooting guard has averaged 20'1 points and 6 rebounds per game, while shooting consistently.
Jeff Teague. His inclusion on my list is based on a very simple argument: he's one of the top two players on the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks. The former Wake Forest point guard is having a career year posting averages of 17 points and 7'5 assists per game on the best team in the Eastern Conference, therefore he must make his first All Star trip.
Paul Millsap. Arguably the best player on the best team in the Eastern Conference, the power forward is producing 17'2 points and 8'1 rebounds per game, leading the team in both statistics, while putting up solid shooting percentages.
Chris Bosh. The best player on a mediocre Miami Heat team. Bosh has been averaging 21'3 ppg and 7'5 rpg, while his solid play has not translated into the wins, as the Heat sit 7th in the Eastern Conference at 20-25, 5 games below .500.
Nikola Vucevic. By far one of the most underrated players around the league, one of the best big men in the NBA without question. Despite playing for the third worst team in the East Vucevic has posted 19'5 points (18th in the league, 3rd amongst centers) and 11'3 rebounds per game (7th in the league) becoming one of the few legitimate 20-10 threats in the NBA right now.
Another strong argument towards Nikola´s case is the fact that he has dominated other top tier NBA bigs, such as his 34 points-16 rebounds against Portland followed by 33-11 against Chicago on his next game. Oh, and he's second in the league in double-doubles. Al Horford is a good player and the Hawks have been great, but you have to give credit when credit is due. Great post moves, outstanding rebounder and solid free throw shooting percentages, what else would you want from your team's center?
My two wildcard selections for the Eastern Conference team:
Kyrie Irving. The Cavs' point guard has had a nice season individually, posting 22'1 points per game and 5'2 assists, including his NBA season-best and career-high 55 points against the Blazers this week. However, the Cavs have not had a brilliant first half of the season, and Irving lead Cleveland to a 1-8 record during the nine game strech in which LeBron was sidelined, raising questions on reliability as a go-to guy.
Brandon Knight. That's right, no Dwayne Wade. Why? It's quite simple: 1. He has not had an All Star caliber season. 2. I refuse to include two players from a team which has a .444 winning percentage, and Bosh is the better player. Sure, Wade has had a tremendous career and he's a future Hall of Famer, but the truth is Brandon Knight has had a better season so far. The former Kentucky point guard has produced close to 18 points, 5'2 assists and 4'2 rebounds per game on just 32 minutes a night while shooting 41% from deep and 89% from the foul line, leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a surprising 24-22 record, seating 6th on the Eastern Conference standings right now.
Fail to make my list: Dwayne Wade, Al Horford, Kemba Walker.
James Harden. The basketball world's most famous beard has started the season on fire, leading the league in points per game at 27'3, while also posting career-highs in rebounds (5'6), assists (6'8) and steals (2'0). The Rockets are tied with the Blazers and the Clippers for the 3rd seed right now, despite the departure from Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard playing his worst basktball since about 2005.
Klay Thompson. The guy can just ball. After a strong performance for Team USA in the World Cup in Spain this summer Thompson has had a remarkable season so far, starting with a 41 point season opener against the Lakers and culminating with his 52 point outburst against the Kings last week, including an all time record 37 points in a quarter, which he has followed with 31 and 30 points in his next two games. The fourth year guard is scoring 23ppg on top tier shooting percentages from deep, while establishing himself as one of the premier two-way players in the league and 50% of the league´s best backcourt along with Stephen Curry. Who wouldn´t want to watch the Splash Brothers at the All Star Game?
LaMarcus Aldridge. Perhaps the best power forward in the league right now, The Dallas native plays at a very high level night-in and night-out, with an impressive statline consisting of 23'2 ppg, 10'2 rpg, 1'2 blocks while shooting 46'3% from the floor, 51% from deep and almost 88% from the charity stripe.
DeMarcus Cousins. Seriously?? What does this man have to do to make the All Star team? I mean, Tim Duncan? Sure, Timmy was a great player, and he still contributes nightly at a high rate, he's on my top 10 all time list, but come on, if you had to pick a player to build a franchise around I don't think many GMs would bet their pick on Duncan. Remember, we're in 2015. DMC has averaged 23'8 points per game (5th in the league, 1st amongst centers), 12'3 rebounds per game (3rd in the league), 3'2 assists per game (4th amongst centers), 1'6 blocks per game (11th in the league) and 1'38 steals (2nd amongst centers, only behind Nerlens Noel) while shooting 48% from the floor and 80% from the foul line.
Sure, the Kings suck, and yeah, he may not be the nicest, most beloved player in the league, but come on coaches, as a fan I want the best players in the league THIS YEAR on the floor, so I suggest you should stop using your schoolgirl criteria, you know, the 'I don't like her, she's not playing' and check Cousins' stats and level of play one more time.
Kevin Durant. The reigning MVP makes my list despite missing 25 games early in the season. In the 21 games since he returned he has posted 25'6-4'1-6'7, which is nice, although below his usual self.
My two Western Conference wildcards are:
Russell Westbrook. Russ is playing out of his mind this season, scoring 25'2 points a night (career high), giving out 7'5 assists and grabbing 5'9 rebounds (again career high) as well as 2'3 steals per game (another career high). However he has shot the ball worse than during previous seasons and the Thunder have yet to earn a Playoff spot in the stacked Western Conference.
Chris Paul. Damian Lillard has been great so far this season, but I still think CP3 has the edge as the better point guard. Despite lagging a bit this year in the "Best point guard in the NBA" conversation behind Westbrook and Stephen Curry he still deserves his 8th All Star selection.
Biggest absences on the official reserves list: Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic/East), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings/West)